Adventure time!


We returned from two days in Ajman this afternoon. Neither of us have been feeling too fabulous, but we made the best of it. We stayed at the Ajman Saray – which was lovely, although I wouldn’t exactly rate Ajman as an exciting destination! We basically spent our days relaxing in our room and next to the pool, catching up on reading and writing blog posts and articles. It was rather hot – around 40 degrees, but felt like 50. I have returned home looking remarkably lobster like. 

We got a fantastic couples massage last night, which was very cheap for the UAE – about $60NZD each. My poor masseuse had obviously been fasting – I was worried she would hear my stomach rumbling, but hers sounded like a thunderstorm. We also had fun admiring the fashion choices of the many Russian guests at the resort. Animal print is definitely in this season, and they have no shame in wearing the smallest possible swimsuits. Yikes.

Speaking of Russia, I’m hopefully off to Moscow tomorrow morning. I say hopefully as tomorrow is the start of a long holiday weekend here in the UAE, with Eid al-Fitr likely to start soon. Of course, we don’t know exactly when it will be, we need to wait for that pesky moon. Regardless, a lot of people are apparently going to travel this weekend. Fingers crossed I get a seat on the flight. Then, provided Matt’s roster doesn’t change, I’ll be meeting him in Hamburg on the 30th of June, ready to celebrate my 30th birthday on the 1st of July. We will then depart Hamburg that night, and hopefully the staff travel gods will shine on us, getting us through to Mauritius on the 2nd of July.


Matt has been enjoying his trips, and all seems to be going well. He is off to Johannesburg tomorrow, and will probably do the done pilot thing – buying cheap plonk and meat to bring home! Next month, he has trips to the Maldives, Phuket, Florida and India. I’m hoping to be able to tag along to Florida and the Maldives – will see how we get on!

Internet access might be a little sparse in Russia, so don’t freak out if you experience a bit of radio silence! I’ve loaded up a few posts to be published at my new blog – The 58th Floor – if you are interested. A little review of our time in Ajman will go up tomorrow. 

On home

I was thinking of home tonight, so I decided I would google promotional videos of Wellington. I’ve seen so many Dubai promotion videos since I’ve been here… I think I’ve nearly memorized the one they screen before the plane lands. I wondered how Wellington would be portrayed. Somehow, I ended up viewing this old chestnut.

Ah, the Absolutely, Positively Wellington video. Apparently it was released in 1991, but given I was four then and probably wouldn’t remember much, I feel it ran for a good many years after it. There are so many things in the video that have met their demise. Len Southward. The Akatarawa Shop. The animals featured. Ansett. Ironically, the Mount Victoria Bowling Club still looks exactly the same – except when it is hosting the Unholy Masquerade, of course. I do think including the (now dilapidated) Kapiti cheese is pushing the boundaries of Wellington, but times were obviously tough in 1991, and Wellington needed the lucrative tourist pull of a giant piece of cheese. I am sure there are many childhood photos of me hanging out on that cheese, an ironic twist considering my now dairy-free diet.

Being homesick is strange. I miss weird things. I keep thinking about how much I miss running around Oriental Bay. If you have been to Oriental Bay, you will know why. It is beautiful. My runs often produced the following scenery:

Looking at those photos, of course you feel a bit homesick. What an amazing sight. I miss the luxury of being able to to walk outside at the moment, let alone run. But what I tend to forget is the 60km/h winds that haunt Wellington. The four degree mornings. The fact that I haven’t been for a run around Oriental Bay for over a year. In fact, its been a year since I moved out my flat, which I loved, on Wakefield Street. It was right in the city, one block away from the entertainment district, two minutes to the National Museum, five minutes to the water. It was fantastic. But it also cost $450 a week, and despite being built in 2012, was freezing cold in winter. It was also a little bit cave like, and very narrow. Looking back, its easy to remember all the good things about a place, particularly when things are hard in your “new life”. Rose tinted glasses crop up often.

After moving out of my apartment in the city, I stayed with Alana and Hayden in Churton Park (kitty-sitting!) for a bit before moving into my last flat, in Wadestown. I loved that place too. It was small, but in a great location, and had a garage for my little car. It was right next to Otari-Wiltons bush, was incredibly quiet, and it only took me 15 minutes to get to work on the bus. I remember sitting there numerous times over my last few months in New Zealand and wondering how on earth I could savor the experience of being in native bush, seeing Tui and Kokako outside and not living 50 stories in the air. I don’t think I really knew what I was in for, coming to Dubai.

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The view from my last flat in Wellington. A rare sunny day over the summer of 2016/2017.

I think it is easy to get hung up on being homesick. It is very difficult moving to a new place. We are lucky that we don’t really have to contend with the language barrier here, but basically, your whole life has been thrown upside down. For those of us that had careers and came to support out partners, we’ve been suddenly put out of a job, and often the purpose that comes from a job. I’ve come to accept a lot of things about my shift to Dubai now, but its taken me awhile. I have only recently felt in a good enough place to admit some of the things that I miss about home.

That I miss the people goes without saying. I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, so it’s not quite as drastic as you would think. I still keep up communications with many people – some of whom I chat with more than I did in New Zealand! But for work acquaintances, or people you didn’t see much, or extended family – its hard. You want to communicate with people, but its also quite tiring. You are trying to make new friends here too, and you somehow end up filling up your days, even if you aren’t sure quite what with.

There are the big things that I miss. Going outside. Walking places. The freedom of driving around, New Zealand drivers are nothing on Dubai drivers. The comfort of always being about twenty minutes from home, anywhere in Wellington. But its the little things that make a place feel like home. I miss the banter with Tommy, Taryn, Nic and Matt at work, Almond Hot Choc’s with Niki, Tea with Virginia, chats with Bob. Walks on the waterfront with Laura, visiting Alana and Hayden’s for a BBQ and to visit their awesome fat kitties. Drinks at Motel, the Library or C.G. Merchants. Dinners with Kelly and Amelia. Driving out to Paraparaumu. Brunch with Matt most Sundays, wherever we felt like driving. Weekend walks with mum, or even by myself up in the hills. Birds outside my window. I even miss the rain a little bit, sometimes.

And the food! Which is ironic, because Dubai has so much amazing food. But I had a solid rotation of lunchtime treats. Pork and chive dumplings at Dumpling’d. Roti wraps and kebabs at Satay Me. Cashew Chicken at Aroy. Shortbread and tea at Colonial Cafe. Honey soy noodles at Chef’s Palette. Chicken and almond sandwiches at Wishbone. These were all within a five minute radius. I’m pretty sure there was a month when I solely consisted on bagels from the Wholly Bagels in our building, when I was too busy to leave work during the day. When I went away to Dubai for five days last year, it closed down. Were my bagel purchases keeping the whole store afloat? Did it ever reopen?!

I can look at all the things that I miss with a feeling of appreciation now, rather than a sense of impending doom. They are things that I remember and think of fondly, rather than being the aspects that grind you down from a distance. I remember reading this post on the Residents of Wellington – a very cool blog, by the way – about whether the writer would ever want to leave Wellington. I think its an interesting perspective, but I certainly think living away from Wellington is the best thing you can do to appreciate it. There is no where in the world like it. But that is the point – there is a whole world out there to explore. If there is no where in the world like your home, doesn’t that make you want to explore the rest of the world… see what the fuss is about? Yes, sometimes its hard, or unpleasant, or downright disappointing. But it’s there to be explored. Picking your life up and shifting half way across the world isn’t for everyone, but it does certainly change your view on things.

While Wellington might not always exist in its current format – it is built on a major fault line, after all – New Zealand will always be home. It will always be there, waiting for us to return one day. And we will. Just not yet.

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* I wrote this blog post for my new blog, The 58th Floor, the link to which I’ll post in a few days. But I thought you guys might enjoy it too!

 

With the fishes

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Sea flap flap says hi. 

Things have sped along quite quickly since Matt and I went to China. He was on reserve for about five days after we got back, but was called up to go to Jakarta for a few days. It’s getting hotter here, and harder to go out during the day, though the night is still not too bad.

Ramadan started on the 26th of May, and we flew out to China the next day. The beginning of Ramadan is always confirmed very close to the actual start, as its based on the moon. There is a moon sighting committee responsible for signaling the start, which is announced with two cannon shots. Yes, seriously. Matt had warned us this was going to happen, but I still wasn’t quite sure he wasn’t kidding. Every night just after 7PM, a cannon shot is fired to signal the start of Iftar, when the fast is broken. If you are sitting anywhere near the windows of our lounge, you are very sure to hear it.

Ramadan here isn’t as difficult as I thought. In saying that, I imagine things are slightly different in other Emirates, or throughout the Gulf. I suspect Dubai is very liberal compared to others places. It is still a little… quiet though. Some food courts are open in the malls, and most hotels seem to have one food outlet open for lunch. The malls are incredibly quiet during the day. They don’t play music during Ramadan, and for obvious reasons, you can’t eat or drink. You can duck into a toilet cubicle and have a drink (obviously from your drink bottle, what were you thinking?!), but for obvious reasons, that doesn’t appeal too much. Some malls have little barriers or fenced off areas you can duck behind to eat or drink, but you can never find one when you need one. Which is ironic, given that Matt managed to find a restaurant serving pork and beer for lunch the other day. Dubai is a place of strange contrasts.

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I haven’t been to many of the Iftar feasts, because I’m not much of a buffet person. I can understand why people who have been fasting since sunrise might be a little hungrier, though. When Matt was in Jakarta, Bianca and I went to an Iftar at Tom and Serg. We had intended on going to Alserkal Avenue, which turned out to be a bit of a Ramadan fail on my part. I’d looked on the website, which said a few of the galleries were open, and the Iftar would start at 7.05PM. Unfortunately, it didn’t state that the galleries were all fairly far apart, or that the temperature would be 38 degrees at 6PM, and that no where to even sit would be available until 7.05PM. Oops. Even my cab driver seemed a bit bewildered at my choice of destination. Luckily, Bianca came and rescued me in her trusty Range Rover, blasting the air-con for my comfort. We had a drink at the Brunswick before driving to Tom and Serg. The theme was Ramen vs Roast, and Bianca, having been previously with her husband, sensibly chose the modest sized ramen meal. Mine was delicious as well, but slightly too plentiful. A giant plate of roast chicken, lamb, beef, roast potatoes, garlic, onion, and delicious yorkshire puddings. I arrived home afterwards very full.

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Atlantis the Palm, from the overpriced Monorail.

On Monday, Matt and I decided we would head out to the Palm. I’d never been there, although Matt went to the waterpark when we visited last October. It is a bit convoluted to get there without a car – we walked to the metro, took it to the marina, hopped on the tram and then onto the monorail. I’d somehow expected the view from the monorail to be a beautiful vista of the ocean over some low rise housing, but it actually travels through a bunch of high rises first… then half finished malls and apartment blocks. I’m glad I’ve been on it now, but I wouldn’t rush back! We headed over to Atlantis to visit the Lost Chambers Aquarium. It was very Dubai, more style than substance.

It was definitely worth visiting, don’t get me wrong. We got in for half price, the fish were super colorful, and while a few tanks were a bit small, the big ones were awesome. I liked the fact that you could sit and admire the fish in the quiet. But there wasn’t really any information about what you were looking at! Apart from a few screens that told you a bit about the fish from Finding Nemo, there wasn’t much other information. Ah well. It was a very nice and relaxing way to spend an hour or so. And it was air-conditioned. Always a bonus.

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We didn’t actually walk very far. But it felt like an arduous journey.

After visiting Atlantis, I asked if we could head over to the Palm Boardwalk so I could get a photo. Once we were there, I had the brilliant idea that we could walk to the Sofitel for lunch. It wasn’t that hot! And it was only 1.6kms! It might not have been hot, but by the time we got there (without being able to drink anything on the way), we discovered just how humid it was. Yikes. We must have looked a wee bit sad dragging ourselves through the hotel lobby, but luckily, they seemed to be used to sweaty, lost people. We had a nice lunch at Maui Beach (the website had claimed it had ‘Maori motifs’, but we didn’t see anything of the sort) and dried out, before getting a cab back to the Marina metro station, and heading to the Dubai Mall for a few hours.

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WAFI Mall. Its owned by Egyptians… who knew?

I’ve been planning to visit Charlie, Sapphire and Alexandra in Russia, and a few days ago I got my invitation number from Charlie to go to the Consulate in Dubai and apply for my visa from the 20th of June. Great! I logged on to the website to book and appointment. The first one available was on the 4th of July. Fantastic. After finally getting hold of the Consulate, they advised I use an agency to apply, so I booked an appointment on the 11th, hoping I would get the visa back by the 22nd. And then I thought, eh, you know what? I’m just going to show up. It was at WAFI mall, so at least it was easy to get to.

I wandered into the visa agency, and it was packed. There were people everywhere, and I joined the back of a very long line. After a few minutes, I asked the guy in front of me whether I was in the right line for Russian visas. Turned out, there was no line for Russian visas. I walked in, and had my application completed in 30 minutes. Record timing. I guess we will find out whether it was worthwhile if my approved visa wings its way back to me on the 18th, but it definitely seemed a lot easier than the Chinese Consulate. I didn’t even have to get a non-objection certificate, which was lucky, considering Matt was flying somewhere over the ocean to Adelaide. The relative success of my visit braced me for the 40 degree temperature outside… which wasn’t that bad, until you look at the ‘feels like’ temperature – 50 degrees. I’m pretty sure my shoes melted a little.

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Making new friends in the Design District.

About two weeks ago, Matt got an email that we were going to have our apartment fumigated. Great! We’d had a few bugs around the place and we were going to get it done anyway. We asked at the lobby desk when we would have it done, and were told the 7th. So, before Matt departed for Adelaide, we cleaned out all of our kitchen cupboards and packed away everything throughout the house, or in various suitcases stacked in the lounge.

By lunchtime yesterday, no one had showed up, so I went downstairs and asked. Sorry, that email was a mistake, and you shouldn’t have been told it was going to get done at all. It is only for cabin crew. I’m not sure why cabin crew are more susceptible to attracting bugs to their apartments (insert crude joke here), but apparently, pilots weren’t getting the fumigation done. Grand. I’ve spent the last two days surrounded by boxes of pots and ingredients, but luckily, have arranged for a fumigator to come on Saturday at our expense.

Ah, Dubai.

32 hours in Beijing

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Yes, to answer the million dollar question, I did make the flight to Beijing! This made the visa application process worthwhile. To explain why I was a bit frustrated with the visa process, I will outline it below.

We googled what time the Consulate opened in Dubai. It said 9.00am, but that people began lining up at 7am, sometimes earlier (one review stated 3am). It also said they only handed out 50 tickets a day. Given we only had one shot at getting the application in, we were there at 6.50. We couldn’t see anyone else waiting. The security guard was less than helpful, and told us no one ever lines up, and to come back at 8.30 for a ticket. We trudged about a kilometer to the nearest cafe, which wasn’t open, and hid in an air conditioned ATM outlet until it did, trying to cool down.

After breakfast, we head back at about 8am, to find a whole lot of people waiting outside in the sun. We were 21st in the line. Great. At least we weren’t 51st. We waited another 30 minutes, this time trying to hide from the sun. At 8.40, we were let inside. It turned out the man taking the list was actually applying for a passport. I have no idea who made him chief list maker for the day. We waited about an hour and a half for our turn, watching the staff bark at people for various reasons. We were called up. They wouldn’t accept copies of my photocopied expired passport and previous Chinese visas, so I had to write a declaration of all the countries I had visited on my old passport and hand it in. They said they would check the information we handed over – which included my passport, photocopies of Matt’s passport and ID, a salary certificate, a non-objection letter, my declaration, a photo, a filled in visa form, my ticket and an email from the hotel in China. We waited another hour and a half. Eventually, while I was about to lose my rag about the trip to the Chinese consulate that had turned into a five hour debacle, we had a pink slip thrust at us and was told to come back Thursday. VICTORY.

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The plane on the way over was packed, and I only got a seat about an hour before departure – we had wisely paid for business, given there wasn’t much room left in economy. It was a great flight up, and – despite nearly losing Matt at Beijing airport several times – I eventually made my way to the hotel. We got to bed around about 1am, with a 7am pick up the next morning.

I had booked a driver named ‘Mr Xie’ to take us to the Great Wall for the day. I didn’t fancy getting to Beijing and trying to negotiate with a cab driver who might abandon us at the wall, particularly given I predicted (correctly) that I wouldn’t get much sleep. In the lobby was a lady driver who definitely wasn’t Mr Xie. Ah well, welcome to China. She had a sign with the right name, and she managed to take us to the wall without any major incidents. It was about a two hour trip to Mutianyu, one of the nearest sections of the wall. The easiest section to get to – Badaling – is apparently the most popular spot for locals, so we opted for the less touristy option. Although our guide didn’t speak a word of English, through much pointing and gesticulating we managed to get tickets for the cable car up the hill, and set about hiking up the Great Wall.

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The gradient was certainly greater than expected.

 

It was steep, and hot. I’m not really sure what I expected, but I looked up at the hill and thought ‘I can make it all the way to that top tower!’. I did not make it all the way to the top tower. We are pretty used to 35 degree heat these days, but hiking up stone steps in 35 degrees is not the sort of activity we generally undertake in Dubai. I hadn’t eaten much that morning for fear of getting car sick – anyone that has been in a taxi in China will understand this concern. We both trudged our way up to the third highest guard tower – the one above the steepest section in the second photo – where we came to the common agreement that we wouldn’t go any higher. As I wobbled my way down, I felt this was a sensible move.

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Going down was obviously easier than going up, though not as easy as I expected. It was getting very hot by this stage, and I felt for the poor people making their way towards the top. In saying that, the Chinese seem to be a hardy bunch, and we saw people of all ages making the trek, including a bunch of determined little kids. I don’t think many people carried on beyond the watchtower that we made it to, though. After wandering the wall for another hour, we caught the cable car back down (grateful for buying a return ticket) and relaxed for awhile, before rejoining our guide at Subway (!) and driving back towards Beijing city.

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Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

Beijing is big. Our guide took us as close as she could to the Tiananmen Gate, where we went through some half-hearted Chinese security. The signage wasn’t entirely clear, and we didn’t have any idea of how far we were going to walk through the Forbidden City, our next point of call. For this reason, we only took a quick glimpse at Tiananmen Square, the site of the 1989 protests and Mao Zedong’s Tomb. Information on the protests is still heavily censored in China, so you would be very hard pressed to find any particular location or information on events relating to them. We wandered through the Tiananmen Gate – along with around 5000 local tourists – towards the Forbidden City.

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Chairman Mao keeping watch.

The fact that the name has ‘city’ in it was probably a strong hint. It was very big. I didn’t really prepare much for the visit, as I wasn’t even sure we would get admitted – tickets are supposedly limited, and we arrived at about 1.30pm. But we couldn’t figure out where to buy a ticket to the city. After we finally figured out the ‘Palace Museum’ was, in fact, the Forbidden City, we managed to obtain a ticket and headed on through… to gate, after gate, after gate. The Forbidden City was where the Chinese imperial family lived from 1420 to 1912. It seems a little excessive in size. It has over 8000 rooms, but we only got to see a few of them. Mostly, we spent a lot of time dodging Chinese people with umbrellas, as they (fairly enough!) avoided the sun. It was a cool place to visit – and neat to tick another UNESCO site off the list – but given the amount of travel we have done in China and Japan, the only really defining feature of the Forbidden City was its size and scale. In saying that, I’m still glad we went, and once I do a bit more research about what we actually saw, I imagine I’ll appreciate it more.

We kept following the crowd through the complex, not really sure where we were going. We came to a garden, which I thought meant we had exited the Palace Museum, but alas, we were still inside. It was packed. A kindly lady shuffled over so we could enjoy our cold drinks in the shade. We gathered up the energy to trundle on, having walked about 12kms by then…. with a lot of that straight up a hill. By this stage, we were getting rather hot, and judging by the gross bulging vein in my forehead in the photo below, I was pretty dehydrated. Time to exit the premises.

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Don’t let the smile fool you. I was hangry.

We finally made it out, only to find indecipherable instructions to the sightseeing bus, and not a taxi in sight. Well, that’s not true, there were plenty of taxis, but they were on the other side of a metal fence. We wandered about 1.5kms to a shopping plaza, me being a grumbly little monster along the way because we still hadn’t had lunch. Anyway, we located the plaza and a branch of Din Tai Fung, which had been recommended to us by the Captain on our flight. I love dumplings, and the food was delicious. We had soup dumplings like we ate when we visited Zhujiajiao, near Shanghai, in 2015. Ironically, there is a branch of the store about 15kms away, in the Mall of the Emirates. However, it was still nice to be able to sit down and enjoy (pork) dumplings in China.

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Oh how I’ve missed you, pork buns.

Afterwards, we wandered outside to get a cab. Easy, right? Not in Beijing! No one wanted to take us without ‘negotiating’ a fare first. Basically, they wanted to fleece us by not using the meter. After about 25 minutes of pacing aimlessly and trying to hail street cabs, we walked to the Hilton, told them we wanted to visit our friends back at our hotel, and they hailed us a cab, with the meter running. We even got a free dangerous driving course courtesy of the driver, and some singing lessons. I’m pretty sure living in Dubai has made me relatively immune to terrible drivers now. I feel like I’ve seen it all.

We were both pretty tired, so were in bed at 8pm for our 4am wake up call, to the airport at 5.15 and departed, on time, at 7.25 or so. Matt flew the sector back, and we had a very nice landing! All the flight attendants looked very horrified when they saw I was down the back in economy – but they kindly moved me to a row of three empty seats near the window, where I was able to curl up for the eight hour flight home. I have to admit I was pleased for the relative efficiency of Dubai airport compared to Beijing, and I waltzed through with my carry on, and on to the metro, in no time.

Beijing in 32 hours may seem crazy, but I’m very grateful to have the chance to visit these places, and I loved visiting the Great Wall – something I’ve always wanted to do. Why not!

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Matt’s photo of the Himalayas from the flight deck. Amazing!

 

 

24 hours in Abu Dhabi

After beginning Monday with a rather stressful visit to the Chinese Consulate in Dubai – the usefulness of which will be dependent on whether I get a seat on the plane to China on Saturday – Matt and I got on the public bus to Abu Dhabi. After about two hours, and only being run off the highway once, we arrived at the delightfully green Abu Dhabi central bus station. We then grabbed a cab through to our hotel, the Jumeirah Etihad Towers. As our room wasn’t quite ready, we went straight upstairs to Observation Deck 300 for a great view out over the Emirates Palace and the Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace. We also ate some delicious but hideously overpriced cake.

The hotel itself was lovely. The quality levels of a five star hotel in New Zealand and a five star hotel in the Middle East are very different. The $190NZD or so Matt kindly spent on our hotel for the night wouldn’t get much back home in central Auckland, but we had a lovely room overlooking the water, and the service at the hotel was fantastic. We spent most of the day lounging on the private beach and reading, with the serenity occasionally broken up by the sound of the nearest Mosque. We had a nice dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, and then probably spent a good twenty minutes playing with the remote controlled curtain rail and watching the Mecca channel, which was as scintillating as can be expected.

In the morning, on Suzettes advice, we got up early and drove straight to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Taxis are cheap in Abu Dhabi – much cheaper than Dubai – and a 40 minute cab ride cost about $12NZD. I had forgotten to bring a head scarf, so dutifully lined up to obtain a brown polyester sack to wear in the Mosque. I had mistakenly assumed that the abayas would be made of the same black silk-like material I had seen others wearing. After helping a little Taiwanese lady into her own brown polyester sack, we went into the Mosque grounds, and it was pretty cool. Going early was a great idea, as we managed to beat the Chinese tour groups and had it to ourselves  most of the time. The Mosque was actually only built in 2007, and its a bizarre mix of beautiful Islamic art and design, and strange plastic chandeliers. It also has a snazzy clock inside that tells you when to pray.

We spent about an hour wandering around the site, which was starting to get busier by the time we left. We grabbed a cab back toward the hotel, and visited the Emirates Palace, the fanciest hotel in Abu Dhabi. After our disappointment at not being able to locate the gold vending machine, we decided to have tea and cake at one of its cafes – although we did pass on the gold flake camelcinos and the $1,100 cake on offer. I also consumed the most expensive tea I will ever drink.

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And it took so long with that tiny glass.

One thing I really like about most places we visit in the Middle East is the fact that everyone assumes you are rich. We are not rich. But you get treated as if you are anyway. When we were waiting to check in at our hotel, someone bought us over lemon mint drinks and hot towels to refresh ourselves. Although this did make me wonder how bad I looked after a two hour bus journey, I had to appreciate the gesture. People in hospitality generally treat you very well – and its a nice touch, something you don’t tend to find at home.

We lounged on the beach for a few more hours after checking out, and then it was back on the bus (25AED each way!) to Dubai, and the metro back to our apartment. It was a nice little break away, and we hope to be able to visit another Emirate soon.

Ship of the Desert

Today I went horse riding. It was great fun! But most importantly – I met this guy.

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Modern dentistry, eat your heart out. 

I finally got to get up close to a camel! Anyone that knows me is well aware I have been desperately seeking camel since my arrival in Dubai. And I got to meet some friendly ones today!

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Desert sunrise feat. abandoned water bottles.

Bianca and Natasha picked me up about 5.00am this morning. It is getting so hot here that you either need to start early or go out after sunset, so we picked the morning option. After only one wrong turn – under my direction, oops – we made a successful trip out to the desert, just as the sun was coming up.

Pleasingly, the horses were well cared for, and our guides friendly and helpful. I ended up on an ex-racehorse who was very well behaved, except for the occasional attempt to launch me across the desert at 1000kms an hour. Al Sahra gave us two guides, which was great – it meant I could stay back with Bianca (who had never ridden a horse before, and did very well!) and Natasha could gallop off across the desert. Bianca and I kept to trotting, although there was a few canters when my horse (Harry!) decided to go for gold and return to his racing roots.

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I enjoyed this ride much more than my last desert hack in Dubai. It was much further out in the desert, and you really felt like you were away from the city. We saw wild camels, tame racing camels in pens, a very cool looking bouncy deer and a bunch of adorable baby goats leaping around. The guides were much friendlier than last time, and took good care of us. It warmed up remarkably quickly though… by about 6.30am, we were definitely feeling the heat.

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While we were out in the middle of nowhere, there was still construction going on… typical Dubai. Villas were being constructed (1.4M AED, we were told, and miles from anywhere), and a camel racecourse being built right in the desert park. Unfortunately, work had apparently progressed very quickly on the camel racecourse, and the bridges that had previously let riders pass over the ditch dug in the sand had disappeared. It was the horse riding version of taking the wrong turn on Sheikh Zayed Road, and we ended up going a good four or five kms in the wrong direction, to slingshot back around the end of the building works and work back. We were all – guides included – pretty stoked to be able to turn back, but at least we didn’t have to walk all that way! Our guides did comment they were a little worried they might have had to reroute us up to the highway, and didn’t really fancy the traffic choppers following for being rogue users of the E77.

We spent a little while relaxing and munching down on a hearty meal of oreos and pringles afterwards, as there was a lovely shady area to sit in and no one seemed bothered by our presence.  As we walked back from the trek, I had asked one of the guides if I was allowed to go and check out the camels, and much to my delight he was happy to let us do so. The Pakistani camel keeper, along with the guides, was just lovely. He took a huge amount of pride in telling us about his work with the camels, and what he does to take care of them. They were ‘very tame camels’ that didn’t spit or bite – and they loved a good head scratch and a cuddle. He had the last two days off work and his camels were looking a bit muddy, so he was getting them ready for bath time. There were seven camels, and they all had names – I can’t remember them all, but there was definitely a Liwa and a Maria. And a Simon. This is Simon the camel.

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Simon and friend.

Busy with his upcoming camel washing duties, we left the keeper and headed off back home, with no unplanned detours or missed exits at all. Victory! All in all, a successful trip.

I haven’t been up to much else lately. We farewelled Nick and Candyce today, who have been staying with us the last week. Matt did a better job of entertaining them than me, but I did head out with them a few times, to Dubai Mall (of course!), Souk Madinet and Jumeriah Public Beach and down to Common Grounds at Mall of the Emirates today, an old favorite. We also went to a food truck festival at the Emirates Hills Golf Course last week, which was a nice night out – we didn’t die of heat exhaustion, and I was very stoked to find mini pork sliders for dinner! We caught up with some of the other people on Matt’s course, and I found an ironic sandtrap.

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Why even bother?

 

I think its going to take a good few days for my butt to recover from the 15 or so kms bumping along in the saddle this morning, and I’m just about asleep, so here are some recent Dubai pictures to enjoy.

 

 

Skyscraper city

I haven’t been well lately, so my days have mainly been spent lurking at home, doing contract work, studying, knitting and watching Netflix. Living the dream, truly.

I found a very handy website the other day that told me about all the proposed building works on in Dubai (you might need to type in ‘Business Bay – Dubai’ to get my location). According to this map, this 95-story behemoth is planned for the empty space next to our building on Sheikh Zayed Road, and a Paramount Hotel is being built on the opposite side, facing the water canal. There are an awful lot of buildings planned… but whether they will actually get built is another question altogether. It seems to be a very volatile market here, and at some point, I imagine the demand for housing is going to have to decrease (or be outpaced by production). Our view of the Burj is going to be partially obscured by Forte 1 and 2 (a two bedroom apartment in these buildings can be yours for a cool 2 million AED), Il Primo 1 and 2 and The Address Residences Dubai Opera. That’s at least 1000 additional apartments, all within a few hundred meters of each other. It is crazy. Most of the buildings are constructed by the same two companies, EMAAR and Damac, which makes for an even weirder, SimCity like experience.

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Bye bye, Burj view! I’ll believe it when I see it.

The licensing of name brands here is fascinating too. The west obviously sells, and unlike the situation in countries like China, there are plenty of local businesses willing to buy into licensing and franchising agreements (and locals willing to spend up large to be seen with certain brands). At Dubai Mall, we have anchor stores of Galeries Lafayette, Bloomingdales, Debenhams and Marks and Spencer’s, and hundreds of other American  stores and restaurants like GAP, Banana Republic, Shake Shack, Magnolia Bakery, P.F. Changs, The Cheesecake Factory, Aeropostale and Hollister. At the other end of the scale, there is store after store of luxury products… Cartier, Tiffanys, Chopard, Gucci, Dior (and Dior Kids!), Fendi, Dolce and Gabbana, Christian Louboutin… consumerism is rife. There is a Trump golf course, which seems ironic given his friendly attitude towards Muslims. My favorite failed-licensing attempt were the Boris Becker, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher towers. Totally logical connection with building construction there.

It doesn’t really surprise me that people here are so obsessed with fancy brands and name dropping. There isn’t a heck of a lot going on here culturally, so I guess society naturally gravitates to celebrity. Justin Bieber has a concert here in the weekend, so I’m bracing myself for local social media Bieber-fever… about eight years behind the rest of the world. Every time a member of the royal family blinks an eyelid (or eats a 24k gold burger, it seems) it makes the news. In saying that, it didn’t make the news when a helicopter rattled past our apartment VERY low the other day… which we are sure was carting around someone royal.

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You know you’ve reached the top when you can eat a 24k gold burger. Apparently.

The other night, Matt and I went to Dubai Garden Glow, which was the tacky-someone-threw-up-Christmas-lights-all-over-the-show park that I mentioned in an earlier post. It was a very hot day… about 41 degrees. By the time it was starting to get dark and we headed out, it was around 38 degrees. Unperturbed – the park is shutting down for the summer soon – we visited anyway.

We went to the dinosaur park first. If you ever want to see some creaky animatronic dinosaurs shuddering around awkwardly, this is the place! There only seemed to be about three different calls, and I’m pretty sure one of them was an elephant. Those of you following my snapchat story were in for a real treat that night. A++. Would trade again.

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Rahhhh! To be fair, it is a ‘family entertainment park’.

After that, we headed to the lights, which were actually kind of cool. Tacky, yes, and all over the show in that Dubai-lets-cover-all-our-bases-instead-of-stopping-while-we-are-ahead kind of way. But it was a nice way to spend the evening. It was still crazy hot though. Some of the lights didn’t make a lot of sense. We found a surfing kangaroo on a giant wave, next to a tree with an Australian accent telling a confusing story about Easter bunnies and dinosaurs (which seemed mildly inappropriate in a Muslim country). The surfing kangaroo wasn’t even a part of Garden Glow, and was there because Dubai is the sister city of the Gold Coast. I suppose they are both soul-less skyscraper cities, so that part makes sense!

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That is a baby kangaroo peeking out of the pouch, and not something more sinister. 

Anyway, we enjoyed the very-Dubai experience of Garden Glow, and some of the lights were quite pretty. We passed on the food though…. I’ve never seen so many dicey looking fairground vendors in my life. It all looked rather old… they really didn’t have the throughput to make us feel anything was very fresh. There was an angry sounding Turkish man selling ice cream, and we got lots of m’aamsirs would you like some strawberries? I’m surprised no one offered us Khlav Khalash.

Nick and Candyce arrive tonight – straight into the 38 degrees it is supposed to be at 11pm tonight – and are staying for a week. I’ve also finally found a bargain on Dubai equivalent of Trade – Dubizzle. It’s generally very slim pickings on there – everything is so expensive here, no one wants to sell individual things off cheap (whole house lots for expats abandoning the country though – they can be had for a bargain, if you like hideous cheap Arabic crap). I managed to get a cake tin and moulds from Muji for 10AED. The man even stood at the metro gate so I didn’t have to swipe out and back again, and my whole metro trip was 3AED. Not bad at all!